Women win GPAC championship, reach nationals for first time since 2011

By Concordia University, Nebraska on Nov. 9, 2019 in Cross Country

Sioux City, IA  For the first time since 2005, Concordia women’s Cross Country brought home the treasured GPAC Championship banner, winning with 39 points to Dordt’s second-place finish (48 points). The Concordia men ran the races of their lives, finishing only three points behind Northwestern with a score of 124 to place 5th as a team.

All-Conference (top 15) honors on the women’s side went to freshman Kylahn Heritage (18:30.48) who was the individual runner-up, junior Alyssa Fye (18:52.32) who finished 4th, senior Rebekah Hinrichs (18:55.03) who finished 5th, and junior Sydney Clark (19:19.74) who was 12th overall. For the men, sophomore Wyatt Lehr (25:59.84) placed 15th overall.

An astounding nine of Concordia’s ten female runners were under 20:00. Only 57.93 seconds separated Concordia’s 1st and 5th runner, an important factor in the team win. Out of 105 runners, all ten Concordia women placed in the top 33.

The team title earns the Lady Bulldogs a trip to Fort Vancouver, Washington where they will compete in the NAIA National Cross Country Championships on Friday, November 22. This is the first time Concordia’s women have qualified for Nationals as a team since 2011 when they finished 17th nationally, and heralded Concordia alum Sarah Kortze earned All-American honors by placing 13th with a time of 18:03.

Women’s Team Captain Rebekah Hinrichs stated, “I’m having a tough time finding all the right words that cover all the emotions going through our team, but first of all - God is good, all the time! As a senior, this is definitely greater than all I could hope or imagine for the season, and I’m so thankful it’s not over yet! After the Nationals qualifying list came out last year [when Hinrichs and teammate Abi DeLoach narrowly missed individually qualifying], I looked Abi in the eyes and told her we’d be there next year and bringing a full team, but even at the time, it was still just a pipe dream or just a big hope we had. I knew it would take something special to really make it happen. Then, as our season got going this year, we really started to believe we could do it...  in each race, we’ve stepped up for each other and run our hearts out. I’m so proud of and blessed to run with these girls. We’re so excited to go Run for the One again and represent Concordia Nebraska in Washington! What a great day to be a Bulldog!”

“Before the race, I told the ladies they had to spend some energy, to run hard and get out in front, and trust their training so they were in a good position once the first mad rush was over. They took that risk and ran exactly the way we needed them to,” said Head Coach Matt Beisel. “We have spent four years building depth into the program through recruitment and development of great athletes. In 2016, we were 6th in the GPAC. The next year, we were 5th. Last year, we were 4th. As they set team goals during pre-season camp in August, our women believed that the big jump from fourth to first was possible as they set team goals, and through God’s abundant blessing we were able to do so. I’ve been praying so much for these remarkable men and women all year, and I know many others have too. I give all glory to Christ for all we have been able to accomplish.”

In addition to the four All-Conference finishers for the women, the next six were Lydia Cook (19:28.41), Abi DeLoach (19:33.87), Hannah Rebmann (19:39.22), Amie Martin (19:49.40), Bailie Vanarsdall (19:50.90), and Erin Lindeman (20:05.80).

Heritage, the top finisher for Concordia women, said, “The whole thing is just really surreal to me, and I still haven’t fully processed it. It has all happened so fast. It felt really good seeing the camaraderie at the end. It’s nice to know that the same camaraderie would have been there whether we had a good day or not. I was especially happy to see other people from our school to support us [a large group of Concordia track & field athletes, friends, and families were there], since it was not an easy drive to make. Before the race, I was really excited to run and help my team get to Nationals, because we’ve worked so hard for this. Then I started getting nervous right before the race, but talked to a few teammates who helped remind me that this is what we’ve worked for and that our training has prepared us for this. It gave me confidence today, and also gives me confidence that for Nationals I’ll be able to do my best and have a great time with my team.”

On the men’s side, Lehr and teammate Jordan Lorenz (26:24.73), who placed 19th, narrowly missed a chance to run individually at Nationals. To qualify individually, the top four male GPAC individual runners who are not on one of the qualifying teams, also get to compete at Nationals. Lehr was running as the fourth individual until he was out-kicked by Joshua Starr from Northwestern in the final 100 meters. Lorenz was one place out from Lehr. However, both ran big personal bests when it counted most. Lehr sliced 39 seconds off his all-time best, and Lorenz had a 20-second personal best. Although it doesn’t take away the disappointment of missing out on Nationals, it helps to know that they ran their very best races ever in the attempt.

Although the men placed 5th, one place down from their 4th-place finish last year, Beisel expresses confidence that they can make the same leap as the women going forward. “Last year, we lost three of our top seven to graduation. This fall, we are really young: three of our top six are freshmen, two are sophomores, and one is a junior. We have no seniors [when Beisel took over the program in 2016, there were no freshman male distance recruits].”

“We aren’t losing anyone to graduation; everyone had huge improvements this year, and we have a great 2020 class of distance runners coming in. The guys saw what the girls accomplished, and I know they want to make the same leap forward as a team. All of the top seven Concordia men ran big personal bests at GPAC today, when it mattered the most. Our men know what we are capable of, and are already excited about next season.” In addition to Lehr and Lorenz, the next five scoring Concordia men were freshman Camden Sesna (26:50.65), freshman Owen Dawson (27:20.43), freshman Antonio Blaine (27:29.23), sophomore Ethan Pankow (27:50.77), and junior Christian Watters (28:25.39).

When asked about the meet and the season, Lehr stated, “I thought it was pretty successful. A lot of us got personal bests, which was amazing. Coming in and overdoing our expectations of what we thought we could do at GPAC, even though we didn’t make it to Nationals, was really great. I’m glad the ladies get to go, because they deserve it with all the work they’ve done. The historical significance of their win after such a long time is really cool, too.”

Men’s Team Captain Lorenz said, “I really liked seeing the hard work that everyone gave – with almost everyone running personal bests – pay off. Most of all, I want to show gratitude towards the girls, because they really showed their stuff. The guys had a great effort against hard competition; it was really cool to see that work out. Overall with the season, I was impressed to see that everyone was giving a lot of effort and striving to reach the goals we had. I’m looking forward to the track season coming up.”

Coach Beisel added, “We came together at the end, after awards and pictures, and made a huge circle of teammates and friends. I didn’t have adequate words to express my deep admiration for them, and my gratefulness that I get the honor of working with them, but I did the best I could. We then sang the Doxology, and brought it in for a big Bulldog cheer. Bailie Vanarsdall, one of our top three freshmen, told me later her heart was full. I echo her words. My heart is full. I’ll remember this day forever.”